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Tai chi ... might well be called "medication in motion." There is growing evidence that this mind-body practice ...has value in treating or preventing many health problems. -- Harvard Medical School's Harvard Health Publication, May, 2009
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White Willow School of Tai Chi, Cincinnati, Ohio
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In This Chapter
> The reasons behind Tai Chi’s exploding popularity
> The root of Tai Chi
> A brief history of Tai Chi
> ALL styles of Tai Chi can offer powerful benefits
Tai Chi is practiced by about 20 percent of the world's population and is fast becoming the most popular exercise in the world today. Its rapid expansion is largely due to one important fact it feels really good. Although Tai Chi was originally a martial art and is increasingly offered by martial arts studios, it's now practiced in businesses, hospitals, and schools everywhere. Tai Chi is not only a valuable tool for improving health, it is a powerful business tool as well. Companies see that Tai Chi improves productivity by helping employees to be happy, relaxed, and creative. Hospitals see Tai Chi as a potent, yet cost-effective, therapy for nearly any condition. Tai Chi classes can be found nowadays almost anywhere. In this chapter, I'll give you a whirlwind tour of the reasons behind Tai Chi's growing popularity and what Tai Chi can do for you.
Exploring the Reasons Behind T'ai Chi's Popularity
Do you ever feel like life is getting more stressful? It is. The increasing stress in today's world is one reason for Tai Chi's growing worldwide popularity. Tai Chi was designed to help people go through change with less damage by improving the way we handle stress. Studies show change is stressful, and even though change is often good, if the stress that change causes isn't managed it can damage your health and outlook on life. Since about 90 percent of the discoveries made in the history of the human race have been made in our lifetime, we are all going through some serious change and stress. Therefore, Tai Chi's ability to help practitioners let go of this stress more easily is just what the doctor ordered, literally.
Imagine life is a carousel upon which we ride. When life gets spinning really fast, Tai Chi seems to slow things down, like a hand pulling us away from the edge, back to the center of life's carousel. Here, in the center, we can let life spin even faster and not feel like throwing up (hardly ever anyway). In fact, by practicing Tai Chi as you ride life's carousel, you might even catch yourself going wheeeeeeeeeeeee a lot more often.
Whether you are stressed out, continually exhausted, treating a health problem, or just wanting to get in shape and feel young again, Tai Chi is just what you need. Tai Chi goes right to the heart of everything we do by healing and cleansing the central nervous system. Tai Chi helps us to let go of all the nervous tension that bogs down our mental computer system (like getting a general tune up every day). This makes everything inside us work better, which often makes the world around us seem better, too. So Tai Chi is really a self-improvement tool that will make you a better anything-you-want-to-be. Unless of course you want to be stressed out, exhausted, uninspired, and feel old and out of shape. In that case, Tai Chi won't help.
Know Your Chinese
The Chinese call life energy Qi (pronounced chee). The character for Qi is also the character for air or breath. QiGong (pronounced chee kung and often spelled Chi-Gong) means breath work or energy exercise. There are about 7,000 QiGong exercises in the Chinese Medica (the bible of Chinese Medicine). Tai Chi is a moving form of QiGong. There are sitting and lying forms of QiGong, but all Tai Chi is done standing and moving.
People everywhere in the world are rapidly embracing Tai Chi as their exercise. Although Tai Chi originates from China, it is now seen so commonly in the West that soon it will be thought of as an American thing, a British thing, a Canadian thing, or whatever. If you ask American kids what their favorite American food is, many will reply, "Pizza!" (which is originally Italian). And someday, when asked what their favorite American pastime is, Americans will say, "Tai Chi!"
Tai Chi Relaxes the Mind, Body, and Our Lives
Just as we flow through the changes of life (or not), our life energy, or Qi, flows through us (or not, if we are stressed out). Qi is the energy of life and flows through all living things. Qi animates, heals, and nurtures life. When the stress of change makes us tense, we squeeze off the flow of life energy. Physically, this feels like tension. Tai Chi and QiGong are easy, simple, yet sophisticated relaxation exercises that encourage the muscles to let go of tension, the mind to let go of worry, and the heart to let go of angst. Tension, worry, and angst all block our Qi flow.
Tension, worry, and angst are usually the result of our mind, heart, or body being unable to let go of something. The goal of Tai Chi is to move through a series of choreographed movements like a slow martial arts routine, but very slowly and in a state of absolute relaxation. In order to do this, we have to let go of our mental/physical tensions, grudges, prejudices, and anything that keeps us tied to the past. This enables us to flow more easily into the future by clearing our mind and body of old stress so that we constantly get a fresh perspective on life.
Tai Chi is simple and easy to do, yet benefits us on many deep and complex levels. Tai Chi's slow, relaxed movements incorporate breathing and relaxation techniques that cleanse our mind, body, and emotions each time we go through the gentle movements. Tai Chi is designed to uncover and release every single place we hold tension or blocked energy. When our mind or heart holds onto issues (fears, obsessions, angers, and so on) our body literally squeezes itself with tension. Going slowly through the movements is like doing an internal scan of the entire body to clear and release any place the body is gripping onto tension. There is no exercise on earth that can help you go through this wild ride toward the future quite like T'ai Chi canwhich is why Tai Chi is truly the exercise of the future.
Know Your Chinese
Tai Chi Ch'uan (pronounced tie chee chwan or die gee jwan), sometimes spelled Taijiquan, means supreme ultimate fist or highest martial art. Tai means Supreme. Chi means Ultimate. Ch'uan means Fist.
Nearly one third of the adult U.S. population has chronic high blood pressure. Since some medications have side effects, physicians need to be made aware that Tai Chi can sometimes lower high blood pressure as effectively as medication. Ask your doctor to look into Tai Chi. However, never adjust medication levels without consulting your physician.
Tai Chi Promotes Internal Strength for Young and Old
Tai Chi looks very much like slow-motion kung fu. David Carradine performed a form related to Tai Chi as Kwai Chang Caine on the television series Kung Fu. And although Tai Chi shares some similarities with kung fu, don't let that scare you away. Tai Chi can be practiced by anyone at any age and in any condition.
In martial arts circles, it is known as an internal martial art. Tai Chi promotes internal strength physically, mentally, and emotionally, which is why it can be powerful training tool for martial artists. But you don't have to be a martial artist to benefit from Tai Chi because it can also be practiced even by those in wheelchairs, with great results.
Unlike karate, Tai Chi has no belt or ranking system because the benefits of Tai Chi can only be felt and not seen. You practice Tai Chi to live better, more calmly, clearly, healthfully, and productively. Tai Chi is a tonic for life. You will see your progress reflected by how you feel, how spry you look in the mirror, how much you love life, and how healthy you are. Isn't this much better than owning a black belt? However, if you do karate, Tai Chi can help you get that black belt by improving your internal function and grace.
Also, Tai Chi differs from most martial arts in that people of all ages can practice it. Many people with disabilities and ailments practice Tai Chi as therapy. No one is restricted from practicing Tai Chi, and yet Tai Chi can benefit the fittest athletes, just as much as it benefits elderly arthritis sufferers. Tai Chi clubs are sprouting up all over the world, with people from all walks of life.
Tai Chi: Finally an Exercise That Feels Good!
Tai Chi is popular because it is easy to do and provides a gentle workout that doesn't leave you drained, but energized! Tai Chi's effortless nature is a big stretch for most of us, however, because we associate exercise with force, pain, and tension. In fact, some exercise actually contributes to stress. When I played junior high football in west Texas many years ago, the coaches determined that we were through running when one of us started throwing up. That's right, upchucking. It was the only time in my life I ever hoped to see someone throw up.
Tai Chi is helping the world get a healthy, enjoyable view of exercise. As a nation, we have adopted a mutant notion of exercise, exemplified by the mantra no pain, no gain. This has traumatized many Americans, including myself, leaving an indelible mark on how we view exercise. In Tai Chi we have a mantra, too, "If your exercise causes pain, you'll get so sick of the thought of it that you'll never want to do it again." Ours isn't as neatly poetic as "no pain, no gain," but ours makes infinitely more sense. Tai Chi should always, always, always, feel good. And since it does feel good, you will look forward to it. Each morning you will find yourself grateful that you're alive and able to practice this cool exercise called Tai Chi.
You Are Perfect, and Perfect for Tai Chi
Tai Chi doesn't begin with the premise that there is something wrong that needs to be "fixed, sculpted, lost, or burned off." It is a very accepting exercise, and helps us remember we are already perfect" but our ability to get better is limitless. Everyone is qualified to do Tai Chi. You don't have to look good in tights or Spandex to do Tai Chi, although if you do Tai Chi enough, you'll look pretty good in whatever you like to wear.
Beginning Tai Chi is a big step for many of us, and it is easy to psych yourself out of taking it. Just like the first day we went to kindergarten, we thought of all the big bad stuff that would probably happen. But, for most of us, none of that materialized, and in fact we actually had a lot of fun. Take a chance. Dive into life by entering the waters of Tai Chi and QiGong.
Tai Chi and QiGong are for anybody who is dealing with stress. In other wordseverybody. Anybody can do Tai Chi. If you've picked up a book on Tai Chi, you've probably experienced the acute stress of imagining yourself in some of those incredible (seemingly impossible) positions the Tai Chi models pose in for the photos. Relax. Those people are models. Most people do Tai Chi just the way you will do it. Easily and effortlessly. Although Tai Chi was one of the original martial arts, it is now practiced all over the world as a relaxation technique by people of all ages in the same shape you are in, and sometimes in even worse shape.
When you begin an exercise class, you may have the illusion that everybody other than you belongs there, and that they are all good at it. You will find that everybody goes through the same trials and tribulations. As you lighten up on yourself, you'll see struggling, growing, and healing are everywhere. Breathe and enjoy; you are among friends.
When you first begin practicing Tai Chi out in the backyard or in your local park, people may stare. Before long, your unique practice of Tai Chi becomes part of the rich texture of the neighborhood, and if you move away, they will miss you. Just as Tai Chi adds to your personal internal charm, your practice adds to the charm of your community.
Tai Chi Goes to the Root of Problems
Life is very complicated, and Tai Chi cannot solve all your problems. However, Tai Chi can help you simplify your life in a big and relaxing way.
Imagine that you're a tree. While your mind and body are the trunk of that tree, all your life stuff is like the many leaves on that tree. Your job, relationships, hobbies, hopes, and problems are all dangling out there on the tips of your life. When your health is bad or you can't sleep well, this affects the whole tree. You may have problems with your job that may strain your relationships, which in turn will drain the energy you need to pursue your hobbies, making you too tired to have hopeful dreams, and causing your problems to get seemingly bigger and bigger. When you are already beat, trying to figure out how to heal all these sick, shriveled leaves is too much to even think about.
A Tai Chi Punch Line
One old Chinese master lecturing his new students said, "QiGong is said to build character in its practitioners. I don't know about that, but it will definitely make you into a character."
However, what if you could pour some magic water on the roots of your tree? Magic that would heal all the sick leaves and cause them to grow larger, to catch more breezes and more sunlight, and more fun! This is what Tai Chi does. By nurturing the very core of your mind and body, Tai Chi makes you better at everything you do. You don't practice Tai Chi to be better at Tai Chi (although that happens). Each time you practice Tai Chi, you pour healing water on the roots of everything you are. This healing water, or energy, is carried out to the leaves of everything you do, making you the freshest, greenest tree you could ever want to be.
Tai Chi is
Getting to the Root of Tai Chi
One name does not adequately express everything Tai Chi is because Tai Chi nurtures so many aspects of our lives at the root. Although originally a martial art known as Tai Chi Chuan (supreme ultimate fist), the shortened name of Tai Chi reflects how it is now viewed, as one of the most effective mind/body exercises in the world. So Tai Chi now refers to supreme ultimate health exercise, supreme ultimate relaxation therapy, supreme ultimate balance conditioner, muscle toner, beauty treatment.
Tai Chi is the supreme ultimate because it goes right to the root of most health problems by relaxing the muscles and mind, aligning the spinal posture, and balancing the energy systems that run through the body, providing them with life energy. It is one of the most soothing, easy, and powerful things you can do for yourself. It is a profound self-improvement tool, a great toning exercise, and an incredible healing art. Whether you want to improve external beauty, mental outlook, or physical health and longevity, Tai Chi heals the roots of your being.
Tai Chi is a highly effective therapy for many injuries or chronic conditions, whether mental, emotional, or physical. The following chapters will discuss different maladies and how Tai Chi treats them. Tai Chi bolsters the immune system, as well, and can actually eliminate problems long before they become an actual physical illness.
An Ultimate Beauty Treatment
Forget about covering up problems with makeup or surgery. Beautify from the inside out instead! Many cells are replaced daily, and almost the entire body is completely replaced every five to seven years. You are literally born anew on some level each and every day of your life. How those cells are reproduced is determined by how the life energy, or Qi, flows through your body. Therefore, you can have a terrific impact on how you age, look, and feel by promoting your Qi flow.
Tai Chi's Cleansing of the Nervous System Releases Power
Have you ever sat back and noticed how small children never run down? Like the Energizer rabbit, on fast forward, they leap and spring, dance and chat, and chat and chat. Have you ever thought to yourself, "God, I wish I had that energy?" Well, you do have access to that energy (and without doing espresso shooters).
Tai Chi can boost your energy levels tremendously. However, it is important also to get the proper amount of sleep. Do not try to use Tai Chi's energy boost to replace proper sleep and diet. Tai Chi will promote an all-around healthful lifestyle as you become more subtly attuned to your body's needs. One aspect of Tai Chi's quiet mindful movement is that it quiets you down enough to sense the mind and body's needs, whether it's more rest, water, and so on.
As human beings, we begin to block our access to that energy as we mature by holding onto past grudges, by shouldering responsibilities that are unrealistic, or just because of silly worries. Then we don't know how to let them go, and we get used to having less and less energy. We can think on a mental level that we want to stop worrying or let go of tension, but that doesn't really work. We need life tools that help us let go of these blocks on deep levels in our mind, heart, and body, so that we can open to your flow of life energy.
Tai Chi and QiGong will give you access to simple exercises, which feel good and can open a valve to that limitless energy you thought you had lost forever. The Chinese discovered long ago that these blocks, or our stress, are simply the mind and nervous system squeezing onto grudges, worries, or even desires. Just as our muscles can tighten when tense, our mind and heart can grip tension too, and we have to be taught how to let go of their squeezing grip on life issues. So the goal of these ancient exercises is to wash our nervous system clean, so our mind can be fresh and vibrant like a newborn baby's, while still remembering the important stuff, like stopping at red lights and dressing before going to work.
Seriously, as we let go of most of the meaningless, irritating debris bouncing around in our mind, we have more space and energy for really important ideas to surface. Important memories like the bill we forgot to pay, or realizations like we forgot to tell someone how much you care about them. Tai Chi's slow, soothing movements provide that calm open space, even in the very center of the rat race.
Sage Sifu Says
I used to hold the world on my shoulders
til my tense muscles felt like very heavy boulders.
Then one day Sifu said, "This world needs no holders,
America is not into the aging thing. What Americans spend on cosmetic surgery attests to that. Tai Chi will help you get over that prejudice, while also slowing the aging process in many ways. The Chinese believe as we practice Tai Chi it returns us to a state of child-likeness (but not childishness), where we see the world with fresh eyes. This allows us the freedom to reinvent ourselves easily and constantly, just as children do, enabling us to flow with the changes of life. We can once again be flexible and exuberant, while still benefiting from the wisdom of experience (like being able to hit our mouth with the spoon, well, most of the time). So Tai Chi has the ability to renew us, and through that renewal enhance our strength, health, and creativity.
Tai Chi is based on the principle that the world doesn't need to be held up by our worrying mind and tense body. In fact, we are much more helpful to the world (and far more enjoyable to be around) if we can let go of as much stress as possible. Realizing this principle is the first big step to letting Tai Chi reopen you to your own personal rejuvenating fountain of energy!
Explaining Tai Chi: History and Premise
Tai Chi is unique. Although it is in a way 2,000 years old, it is at the cutting edge of modern Western medical research. Tai Chi is ancient yet modern, Eastern yet increasingly Western. Using Tai Chi is a way to get the most benefit out of all worlds, old and new, East and West. In fact, Western science is embracing Tai Chi very rapidly. Almost every month a new study seems to find yet another thing Tai Chi can treat, cure, or improve. A researcher at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell said Tai Chi is about to explode (in popularity) as medical practitioners discover the time-tested technique.
In fact each new Tai Chi player educates more people on Tai Chi, and sometimes in odd ways. One of my students was practicing Tai Chi in the park in a suburb of Kansas City one morning when a police officer approached him to ask if he was all right. The officer said someone had called and reported somebody was having a problem in the park. So it may behoove you to know a bit more about Tai Chi in case you need to do some fast-talking. The following will help.
Historical Tai Chi
For an exercise that is so made to order for modern life, it is amazing to realize that Tai Chi is thought to be about 1,200 years old. Furthermore, Tai Chi is an expanded version of a more ancient exercise called QiGong, which may be at least 2,000 years old. Tai Chi's moving exercises are done very slowly, like slow motion kung fu. In days of old, Tai Chi (or Tai Chi Ch'uan) was primarily a martial art. It is believed that Buddhist and Taoist monks began practicing Tai Chi forms in monasteries (yes, like the Shao Lin Temple) for two reasons: One, to promote health because they were out of shape from sitting around meditating all the time; and two, because they were so out of shape, they couldn't defend themselves, and bandits would come and beat them up before taking their valuables. (And you thought you had stress!)
Modern Tai Chi
When most people first join a Tai Chi or QiGong class, they are not quite sure what they are getting themselves into. Most have a mother, a doctor, a friend, a daughter, or son telling them, "This Tai Chi stuff is the greatest thing since sliced bread and you have gotta try it!" However, these enthusiasts can't quite explain why you've gotta try it. So the following is for you, or whoever's been trying to explain it to you.
Biofeedback uses a computer program to train people how to relax when under stress. The computer shows them when their blood pressure goes up and their heart beats faster so that they can then practice relaxing and slowing things down. Dr. Gary Green, a leading biofeedback specialist, refers to Tai Chi as "biofeedback without the computer."
In modern terms, Tai Chi and QiGong are ancient systems of biofeedback and classical conditioning. Traditional Chinese doctors of long ago noted that our natural tendency is to hold onto stress, which bogs down the brain. They therefore created exercises that would train the mind and the body not only to continually dump stress, but also to actually change the way the body handles future stress (not the way your kids change the way you handle stress, but in a good way).
As Tai Chi players move through their slow motion movements, their mind becomes calm, their breathing deepens and slows, and their muscles relax. All this happens while the muscles are toning, making it a very efficient exercise. But, forget about efficiency, Tai Chi should be done as though you were going to do it forever. If you try to hurry up and relax, it doesn't work as well. By proceeding slowly with Tai Chi, and making it a game, you will be much more likely to enjoy it and to stick with it. Chapter 2, "Let's Get Physical," explains how even in Tai Chi's easy going way, there is great power and dramatic physical benefit awaiting you, no matter what style of Tai Chi you enjoy.
Refer to the FREE OnLine Lessons section in the upper-right menu to view non-instructional exhibitions of a Mulan Basic Short Form and a Tai Chi Long Form, online lesson to get a feel for the soothing un-hurried flow of Tai Chi motion, with a calmness that all styles promote.
The Least You Need to Know
> Tai Chi reduces stress and slows the aging process.
> Everybody can do Tai Chi.
> Tai Chi restores the power of youthful exuberance.
> Tai Chi is an efficient therapy that can improve all aspects of your life.